Determining Grounds for Termination

Topic: Determining Grounds for Termination
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Scenario:

You are the HR Director for a company that markets electronic medical records (EMR) systems to physicians. It designs and builds the software for custom EMRs for specialty clinics and group medical practices. Tom Smith has worked for your organization for three years as software engineer as an employee at will. You discover that Tom saved a key database, which contained confidential patient records, on a portable hard drive so he could work from home over the weekend to make sure a project got completed on time for one of your important clients. Tom is a highly motivated employee who frequently puts in extra work without compensation. The problem is that Tom lost his backpack containing the portable hard drive on the subway. It is presumed lost and may have fallen into the hands of parties who could use the sensitive information in damaging ways. Your organization did not have a policy about removing data from the workplace. In part, it was assumed that this was clearly recognized as something that should never be done given the risks involved. Thus, Tom clearly showed bad judgment, but he did not violate any formal policy. If anything, he was responding to the request of his boss to get the work done as soon as feasible. But this is not the first time Tom has exercised poor decision-making. Eighteen months ago, without permission, Tom took home a paper copy with full contact information for the organization’s top physician clients and lost it at some point during his commute home. At the time, you warned Tom to be more careful with paper files, but you did not consider electronic data. Tom is a hard-working employee, but you are concerned that failure to impose the proper level of discipline would send a bad signal to other employees, many of whom have access to the same sensitive data. Should you discipline Tom for his repeated carelessness? If yes, how severely? What policies should you implement going forward? Should you try to find a way to allow hard-working employees to use data at home, while still preserving security? Should you take any action against Tom’s boss for pressuring him to complete the project and for not providing strong guidance on not removing data from the workplace? Should these repeated offenses lead to immediate termination instead? What other information would you want to gather become coming to any final decisions?
Create a cohesive and scholarly response based on your readings and research provided that addresses the following:

Evaluate the grounds for termination.
If you were the HR professional, would you develop and implement progressive steps of discipline? Or would you move to immediately terminate Tom following the second transgression? Reference concrete examples from the scenario to justify your stance. Name two to three potential legal consequences that come with your decision.

Assume that Tom was a contractual employee.
How would the legal consequences of your decision change? Justify your answer citing specific differences between the employee at will agreement and the contractual agreement.
Is there any information that you feel is missing from this scenario? What other information do you feel HR should have had to make the soundest legal decision?

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